BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hepworth and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1995-075

  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • W J Fraser
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • Guy Hepworth
Just Kidding


A practical joke in which an unattended ticking suitcase was left in a public place

featured in a segment of Just Kidding broadcast at 7.30pm on TV2 on 3 May 1995.

Just Kidding is a light-hearted show broadcast weekly which uses an international

selection of practical jokes.

Referring to the recent explosion in Oklahoma in the United States, Mr Hepworth

complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the item was inappropriate. He also

objected to the programme's practice of frightening people as a basis for humour.

Accepting that practical jokes did not appeal to everyone, TVNZ said that a

momentary loss of dignity was the basis of that style of humour. It maintained that

the skit complained about was almost the stereotype of a practical joke and declined

to uphold the complaint. Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Mr Hepworth referred

the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below the Authority declined to uphold the complaint.


The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read

the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice, the Authority

has determined the complaint without a formal hearing.

The actions of passers-by in dealing with an apparently abandoned ticking suitcase in

what was obviously a public place was the point of the humour in a skit included in

Just Kidding. Just Kidding is a light-hearted show which includes an international

selection of practical jokes.

Referring to the recent bomb blast in the United States, Mr Hepworth said the

abandoned suitcase item "was completely out of order". As Just Kidding relied on

scaring people, he argued that the programme should not be broadcast at all.

TVNZ assessed the complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice which requires broadcasters:

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste

in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any

language or behaviour occurs.

Stressing the importance of humour in society, TVNZ stated that practical jokes had

a long history as a form of humour and relied on the victim (in this case a passer-by)

suffering a momentary loss of dignity and composure to the amusement of viewers.

As for the specific item, TVNZ described it as almost stereotypical and argued that, in

the context of a programme of practical jokes, it had not breached the standard.

When he referred his complaint to the Authority, Mr Hepworth disputed TVNZ's

reasoning and pointed to the current practice of detonating abandoned suitcases.

Accordingly, he wrote, not only was the item in bad taste, it was also irresponsible.

While the Authority felt some concern about the particular item's style of humour,

the context, it noted, was a collection of internationally sourced and locally produced

practical jokes, where viewers were expecting the type of humour which involved

laughing at each victim's momentary embarrassment or fear. In that context, the

Authority accepted TVNZ's point that the specific item was almost stereotypical of

the practical joke genre. Accordingly, giving emphasis to the context in which the skit

was screened, the Authority decided that standard G2 had not been contravened.


For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Judith Potter
31 July 1995


Mr Hepworth's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 4 May 1995

Mr Guy Hepworth of Wellington complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about

an item broadcast on Just Kidding on TV2 between 7.30 - 8.30pm on 3 May.

Mr Hepworth said that the item which featured an "exploding" suitcase "was

completely out of order" at any time but especially given the deaths caused by a

recent bomb in the United States. One passer-by, he noted in amazement, was seen to

lift and shake the suitcase.

Acknowledging that the item could well have come from overseas, Mr Hepworth said

that nevertheless TVNZ had to take responsibility. Because the programme seemed

to rely on scaring people - especially of an older age group - Mr Hepworth suggested

that the programme should be taken off the air.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 16 May 1995

Reporting that Just Kidding was a weekly compilation of practical jokes, TVNZ

advised Mr Hepworth that his complaint had been assessed under standard G2 of the

Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

TVNZ argued that although practical jokes were not enjoyed by all, they had a long

history as a form of humour and added:

The essence of the practical joke is that the "victim" (in this case the passer-by)

suffers a momentary loss of dignity and composure to the amusement of those

who are in on the joke - the viewing audience.

TVNZ is very wary of circumscribing the limits of humour because we recognise

that the ability to laugh at ourselves is a very precious attribute not to be

tampered with lightly.

Describing the ticking suitcase as almost a stereotypical practical joke, TVNZ stated

that should Mr Hepworth's concern have been recognised by deleting the item, then

the terrorists responsible for the recent bomb in Okalahoma would have scored

another victory.

Declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ wrote:

While TVNZ is sorry that you were offended by this item, it does not believe

that it strayed beyond the bounds of "currently accepted norms of taste and

decency", especially in the specific context of a skit contained in a programme

comprised entirely of practical jokes. It would, we suggest, be within the

expectations of the viewing audience.

Mr Hepworth's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 18 May


Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Mr Hepworth referred his complaint to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

In view of the points, one, that at least one fatality in New Zealand had been caused

by an abandoned suitcase, two, the Okalahoma explosion, and three, the practice of

detonating abandoned suitcases, Mr Hepworth maintained that the Just Kidding

practical joke was not only in extremely bad taste but also irresponsible.

Mr Hepworth described TVNZ's response as a "complete load of rubbish" and,

observing that the suitcase was not labelled "Bomb" or "TNT", he said that if it had

been a real bomb, the "victims" would have suffered more than "a momentary loss of

dignity". The whole programme, he concluded, lacked merit.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 16 May 1995

In its report to the Authority, TVNZ argued that terrorism should not have a lasting

impact on our ability to laugh at ourselves. In view of Mr Hepworth's distaste for

the entire programme, TVNZ suggested that he was expressing a matter of personal

preference for which the complaint process was inapplicable.

Mr Hepworth's Final Comment - 1 June 1995

In his response, Mr Hepworth pointed out that although he disliked the programme

because it was based on either scaring or assaulting people, he was complaining about

the poor taste of one skit. He wrote:

May I point out that abandoned suitcases have long ago lost their appeal as

humour in London in particular and in England in general and that in New

Zealand on several occasions apparently abandoned brief cases have been

exploded intentionally by the bomb squad in case they were malicious and one

union official was killed by an abandoned suitcase.

Mr Hepworth referred to his experience in diplomatic security and strongly disagreed

that his complaint was a matter of personal preference. Enclosing two letters from the

"TV Guide" which agreed with him about Just Kidding, he concluded:

Sir, I have a sense of humour and frankly am well known for it. In my life time I

have been a stand up comic, I have lectured extensively using humour to get my

message across and have been in some demand due to this as an after dinner

speaker so Mr Edmunds condescending remark where he "respects my views

plus his endorsement of my rights" is in my opinion downright rude but that is

another matter.